Like the Republicans last week, Democrats are featuring governors at their national nominating convention. Because convention speakers are chosen as the parties’ ambassadors to new audiences during these TV spectacles, the state policy team at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy are providing quick sketches of current governors from both parties who have been leaders – for better and for worse – in state tax policy. Below are profiles of tonight’s speakers, in order of appearance, at the DNC in Charlotte, NC. (The Sept. 5 speakers are profiled here.)
Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy: Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy championed a balanced and sensible approach to his state’s budget crunch last year (his first in office) that put the Nutmeg State on a path to fiscal sustainability while also protecting critical and core public services that all Connecticut residents depend on. Malloy’s budget raised substantial new revenue by asking his state’s wealthiest residents and highly profitable corporations to pay more, and by broadening the sales tax base to include more goods and services. At the same time, Malloy cut taxes for the state’s poorest working families with the introduction of a significant refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a great example of how the tax system plays a key role in alleviating hardship and boosting incomes for low-income working families. Governor Malloy (who earned CTJ’s Most Likely to Make the Rich Pay Their Fair Share award) frequently refers to himself as the “Anti-Christie” in juxtaposition to the New Jersey Governor who has rejected even a temporary tax increase on Garden State millionaires passed by his legislature, but has had no qualms about increasing taxes on his poorest constituents.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper: Despite coming into office after defeating two anti-tax candidates, Governor Hickenlooper has done very little to fix Colorado’s devastatingly regressive tax system. In fact, he refused to support a Democratic backed ballot initiative to raise taxes, Proposition 103, that would have protected funding for public schools and universities in Colorado. One small step he has taken was signing legislation that ended the agricultural property tax loophole, which had somewhat famously allowed Tom Cruise to claim massive tax breaks for letting sheep occasionally graze around his mansion.
Governor Hickenlooper has the chance to be a great reformer, however, if he uses his signature TBD Initiative (a year-long series of town halls across the state) to make the case for repealing Colorado’s crippling TABOR law and enacting graduated income tax brackets.
Delaware Governor Jack Markell: As the newly elected chair of the National Governor’s association, Governor Markell will play a leadership role in setting the policy agenda across the states over the next year. This could be a very good thing if Governor Markell sticks to the principles laid out his Washington Post op-ed, which argued that providing robust infrastructure, education, and other critical government services are more important to job creation than lower taxes. Unfortunately, last year Governor Markell did not fully stand by these principles when he squandered the improved budget outlook of Delaware by signing a wasteful tax break for banks in the state.
In addition, while Governor Markell cannot be blamed for making Delaware one of the world’s worst tax havens, he has been complicit in maintaining the low tax rates and corporate opacity that have allowed this tax haven to thrive.
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (not yet scheduled): Governor Schweitzer has yet to come out strongly in favor of significantly improving Montana’s regressive tax structure. He has advocated for reducing taxes on business equipment and offering property tax breaks for homeowners. There is a lot of room for improvement in terms of fixes necessary to the Montana income tax, which currently offers a costly deduction for federal income taxes paid (PDF) and a capital gains tax break -- which both disproportionately benefit the wealthiest taxpayers. The Governor has missed an opportunity to come out squarely for repeal of these measures, but Schweitzer, who’s said he would boast about his state’s low taxes and strong finances during his DNC appearance, deserves credit for not squandering the state’s surplus on unjustified tax cuts, unlike governors in other states.